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It’s healthy to have goals in life. Being able to set an expectation and then achieve it can not only be beneficial to our financial status or social status, but can also be invaluable to our personal mental health and sense of accomplishment. Unfortunately, by measuring our success in goals rather than ongoing progress, it can be all too easy to lose sight of what matters and beat ourselves up over not accomplishing those arbitrary goals that we’ve set for ourselves.

For example, if we want to put a certain amount of money into our savings but fail, we ignore the amount that we were able to save at all. Or if by the time we are a certain age we want to purchase a home and are not quite ready for a mortgage by then, we can fail to see the fact that we are in a financially stable situation and almost ready to become a homeowner.

It can be a real danger to set life goals as our baseline, because this only allows for success or failure, and ignores the wide variety of accomplishments that exist in between. When a specific goal or need is focused on by one of our clients to an unhealthy amount, it can be difficult to remind them that many life goals are arbitrary, and that that is okay.

What Makes a Life Goal Arbitrary?

We find people set guidelines like the purchase of a home, and then often say that they will only view that accomplishment as successful if they reach that life goal by a specific age. Age is a very understandable standard for a life goal. “I want to buy a home by 35,” has a very clear success or failure factor to it. With this type of goal, if you own a home before 35, you have succeeded, and if you do not, you have failed. It feels easy to plan for and easy to digest.

But if you were to purchase a home by the time you turned 36, that would not be any less of an accomplishment. Becoming a homeowner is no easy task by any means, especially not when an age restriction has been placed upon it.  

This is the core issue with forgetting that life goals are arbitrary. Using them for direction can be a fantastic motivator, but life goals lose a lot of their value when we forget that the “life” part is more important than the “goal” part. Life happens, and being able to adapt and still succeed is just as much, if not more, of an accomplishment than any “buy a home by age X” restriction.

Can Life Goals Still be Important?

Another issue with life goals is whether not they’ll actually make us happy at all. So often these goals are based upon external concepts of what success means, and we have not taken the time or introspection to know if they will actually make us happy. Sticking with the homeowner concept: “Will buying a home actually make you happy?” is an important question we asked many of our clients.

Will you live a happier life spending 10 years as a comfortable renter, or will spending 5 years saving every penny so that you can become a homeowner earlier bring you joy? What if you decide that instead of owning a home, you want to travel instead? What if you want to move? What if finding a new job out of state will make you happy? If that’s the case, then not only would homeownership “by 35” not be possible, but it would also be a mistake – it would take you away from what would really make you happy.

Let Life Get in The Way

Even when we are able to take time and decide what we truly need to be happy, it is important that we don’t put too much of a fixed concept on those life goals. Adapting to our experiences or surroundings and then altering our expectations is an essential part of finding happiness in life. Allowing our goals to shift and change with our own personal growth is a fantastic way to create accomplishments that mean something to us.

Rather than viewing life goals as predetermined requirements for happiness, we can view them as the simple goals that they are. And goals change. By taking what makes us happy and combining it with life goals that give us a sense of accomplishment, we are able to adapt to life, rather than letting it “get in the way”.

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